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Croup is thought to be triggered by a viral infection and is characterised by respiratory distress due to upper airway inflammation and swelling of the subglottic mucosa in children. Mostly it is mild and transient and resolves with supportive care. In moderate to severe cases, treatment with corticosteroids and nebulised epinephrine (adrenaline) is required. Corticosteroids improve symptoms but it takes time for a full effect to be achieved. In the interim, the child is at risk of further deterioration. This may rarely result in respiratory failure necessitating emergency intubation and ventilation. Nebulised epinephrine may result in dose-related adverse effects including tachycardia, arrhythmias and hypertension and its benefit may be short-lived. Helium-oxygen (heliox) inhalation has shown therapeutic benefit in initial treatment of acute respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) bronchiolitis and may prevent morbidity and mortality in ventilated neonates. Heliox has been used during emergency transport of children with severe croup and anecdotal evidence suggests that helix relieves respiratory distress. To examine the effect of heliox on relieving symptoms and signs of croup, as determined by a croup score (a tool for measuring the severity of croup).To examine the effect of croup on rates of admission or intubation (or both), through comparisons of heliox with placebo or any active intervention(s) in children with croup. We searched CENTRAL 2013, Issue 10, MEDLINE (1950 to October week 5, 2013), EMBASE (1974 to November 2013), CINAHL (1982 to November 2013), Web of Science (1955 to November 2013) and LILACS (1982 to November 2013). In addition, we searched two clinical trials registries: the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (WHO ICTRP) and clinicaltrials.gov (searched 12 November 2013). Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs comparing the effect of helium-oxygen mixtures with placebo or any active intervention(s) in children with croup. Two review authors independently identified and assessed citations for inclusion. A third review author resolved disagreements. We assessed included trials for allocation concealment, blinding of intervention, completeness of outcome data, selective outcome reporting and other potential sources of bias. We reported mean differences for continuous data and odds ratios for dichotomous data. We descriptively reported data not suitable for statistical analysis. We included three RCTs with a total of 91 participants. One study compared heliox 70%/30% with 30% humidified oxygen administered for 20 minutes in children with mild croup and found no statistically significant differences in the overall change in croup scores between heliox and the comparator. In another study, children with moderate to severe croup were administered intramuscular dexamethasone 0.6 mg/kg and either heliox 70%/30% with one to two doses of nebulised saline, or 100% oxygen with one to two doses of nebulised racaemic epinephrine for three hours. In this study, the heliox group's croup scores improved significantly more at all time points from 90 minutes onwards. However, overall there were no significant differences in croup scores between the groups after four hours using repeated measures analysis. In a third study, children with moderate croup all received one dose of oral dexamethasone 0.3 mg/kg with heliox 70%/30% for 60 minutes in the intervention group and no treatment in the comparator. There was a statistically significant difference in croup scores at 60 minutes in favour of heliox but no significant difference after 120 minutes. It was not possible to pool outcomes because the included studies compared different interventions and reported different outcomes. No adverse events were reported. There is some evidence to suggest a short-term benefit of heliox inhalation in children with moderate to severe croup who have been administered oral or intramuscular dexamethasone. In one study, the benefit appeared to be similar to a combination of 100% oxygen with nebulised epinephrine. In another study there was a slight change in croup scores between heliox and controls, with unclear clinical significance. In another study in mild croup, the benefit of humidified heliox was equivalent to that of 30% humidified oxygen, suggesting that heliox is not indicated in this group of patients provided that 30% oxygen is available. Adequately powered RCTs comparing heliox with standard treatments are needed to further assess the role of heliox in children with moderate to severe croup.
This document has been peer reviewed.